Games I Played in 2018

I posted nothing last year, apparently.

2018 was a very busy year, but somehow I found time to play some games. Here they are, in no real order. Overall this has been a year of trying to figure out what genres I really like: I’ve put some time into games I didn’t get on with to try to push myself, and I’ve tried games that I think I’d otherwise have ignored. I’ve paid more attention to where I’m having fun and where I’m not.

Nier: Automata

I think I played most of Nier: Automata in 2017, but I finished it in 2018. It is an absolutely incredible game that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I don’t really know what to say about it: it does interesting things with narrative, and characters, and the nature of a game being played multiple times. I loved it. It isn’t perfect, but it’s so, so good.

Spec Ops: The Line

This was an interesting game. It looks like it’s going to be a fairly bland military shooter, and in gameplay terms, it really is, but the setting and story are absolutely wild. If the gameplay was a little better, this would be completely unmissable, but sadly it’s not quite there. Still, it’s a wonderful example of a story that only a game could tell: by the time you reach the end, you’ve really been on a journey with the characters.

Factorio

Oh wow I’m still playing this game. I’ve been playing it for 249 hours, the last 70 of those on one base, and I have all but 3 of the achievements. I love it. This is my go-to game when I don’t know how long I’ll be playing for.

I've never been an achievement chaser, but for some reason I've got really into that in Factorio. It's a very open game, and normally I bounce off that kind of thing, but the achievements have given me things to work on and that's enabled me to really get into the mechanics of the game.

Super Mario Odyssey

What a lovely game this is! This was the first game I picked up on the Switch. It manages to combine loads of Mario nostalgia with new ideas and makes a great game out of it all. I got as far as the Dark Side, but I can’t be bothered to get the remaining moons. There are just so many! Perhaps I'll get back to it one day.

Amnesia: Dark Descent

I try to do something a bit scary for Halloween when I can, and this year I decided to play Amnesia at last. I haven’t finished it yet, but it certainly is scary, and I’m enjoying it.

This game was the one where I really realised the strength of audio logs, journal entries, and the like. You’re suffering from amnesia, and along your journey you find pieces of your own diary which detail how you got to your current situation: it mixes the detailed, slowly told story of the past with the fast-paced fear of the present. I know this won’t be news to basically everyone else, but I’m not very perceptive, and this is the first time that I’ve really recognised how this technique works.

Magic The Gathering Arena

Woah, after so, so long, Magic The Gathering finally has a decent online version worth playing. And it’s free! The generosity of this game in giving out free cards is surprising, and very welcome. As a casual player with very little free time, it gives me enough cards to keep me interested, and enough free decks up front to give me things to do. That's always been the barrier to entry for MTG and I think they've really solved it here.

Overwatch

I really enjoyed watching the OWL and had a few weeks of playing Overwatch quite regularly. It’s still a great game. I don’t have a lot more to say about it: it’s a good multiplayer shooter. If I had a team to play with I’d play all day.

Starbound

I’ve been meaning to play this since it first hit early access and I finally found some time for it. It is huge and strange.

God of War

The storytelling in God of War is absolutely fantastic: a truly cinematic masterpiece. The combat is great fun and the level design is great, but the side quests left me cold and the variety of enemies was sorely lacking. Those small issues didn’t stop it from being an excellent and very moving game, though.

Fire Emblem Awakening

I have bounced off this game several times, and finally decided to push on through this time around. I'm glad I finished it and I had a good time, but I'm not going to be continuing with the series - tactics games are OK, but they don't really engage me as much as I'd like. I did exactly the same thing with Final Fantasy Tactics: I bounced off that until I was working nights and had nothing to do at 5am.

Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

After hearing that this was amazing I picked it up in a sale and decided to make it my last game on the 3DS. Playing this, I realised that Zelda has a particular habit of employing a technique that I absolutely hate in games: the theme park queue trick. It keeps telling you that you have one more thing to do, but just as you think you’re done, you turn the corner and there’s a whole bunch more stuff to do. That aside, this was a very cool game, but it cemented my opinion that Zelda isn’t for me, in general.

I played this on my commutes to my new job. I’ve been really enjoying having a train ride to play games on after years of commuting by car: it’s a lovely way to experience a story.

Stellaris

I have friends who play a lot of Stellaris, and I can see why, but it seems to be a game I have to dedicate more time to: I just can’t finish a game in between save game breaking patches. This is a silly state of affairs because they happen months and months apart. I really need to put some proper time into this and actually see the endgame.

I love this game, by the way - I just never get round to it for some reason.

Player Unknown's Battlegrounds

The good bits in PUBG are great - the build up of each game makes the firefights at the end really intense. Sadly, they are few and far between and I spend most of my time in this game moving from house to house, alone, waiting for a sniper to take me out.

Fortnite

Fortnite, on the other hand, is just a little faster and while that makes the best bits not as good as PUBG, it does remove a lot of the bad bits. Sadly, I really don't get on with the building, so it's not the game for me.

Picross

I spent a lot of this year with a child asleep on me, and a lot of the rest of the time was unpredictable. Picross on my phone got a lot of hours. This is a good puzzle style - how come I've never played it before?

Artifact

Artifact is Valve’s new card game based on Dota, designed by Richard Garfield of Magic The Gathering fame. It is played across 3 boards simultaneously, and it looks really, really complicated. In practice, it’s actually quite simple to play - your decision space in any given moment is very small, so it’s a lot easier to get into than I expected. Sadly, it seems that the community disagrees and is falling off it quite quickly, but I’m hopeful that Valve will manage to change it to get people playing more, because it’s great. I’m hoping to play a lot more of it in 2019.

Hollow Knight

I’ve barely dipped my toe into Hollow Knight, but it looks very pretty. I’m not really sure if I like it, yet: maybe I don’t like metroidvania games? Somehow, I’ve never really played one!

Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild is this incredibly beautiful game, to look at and to play. It is an open world like none before, with an amazing sense of depth. And… I don’t think I like it. I haven’t given up on it yet, but so far it’s just too open for me, just too directionless. I know that’s the whole draw of the game for most people, but I just keep finding myself in bad situations with enemies that are far too powerful, and I don’t feel like I have a quest within reach, and I’m lost, and my weapons are all broken, and I just don’t get it. I’ll keep trying.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Horizon is a big, beautiful game which I really enjoyed right up until the last 20 minutes or so. There’s a lot I could complain about but really, my memories are all great: it’s involving and rich, the story is good enough to keep me happy and the combat is loads of fun. I even did a few side quests, which you’ll rarely catch me getting involved in. There are too many systems in this game - levelling, skills, crafting, gear, hunting - and I don’t think any of them are deep enough, but that doesn’t stop it being very ambitious.

Games I Played in 2017

I started 2017 with a 4 week old child. I took the first 3 months off to look after her, and the games I played were fever dreams, played at all hours with a child asleep on my chest or while my family slept in another room and I struggled with sleep deprivation. I played bits and pieces of lots of things. Here is a list.

Street Fighter V

I'm terrible at fighting games, but I did really enjoy learning how to play them with SFV. It's a good game for playing just a few minutes of, although the load times are rather long on the ps4. This version of street fighter is wonderful, a beautiful implementation, and I hope to play it more in future.

Hearthstone

I find Hearthstone to be a fairly weak card game compared to Magic and Netrunner, but it is simple, free to play, and plays well on a tablet. At night, with my tablet or phone resting on the bed, child asleep on my lap, I played many rounds of Hearthstone. I don't feel like I have a good understanding of the game, still, having played on low brain power, but it killed a lot of time.

Invisible Inc

I didn't play much of this but it's a perfect parent game! Plays well with no sound, lets you save anywhere, turn based, pause functionality - a textbook example of a game designed for a busy parent.

Super Meat Boy

My dip in, dip out game to feel like I can still play real games. A classic.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D

My 3DS absolutely shined during some months, but the loud click as it opened sometimes woke up my baby. This Donkey Kong is underrated and not talked about enough. It's also very hard, in places, but I'm happy to say that I did complete it this year.

Gone Home

My favourite game of the year. Gone Home is a wonderful story - it's well paced and it isn't too long. I love the way that it's told: each room reveals something new, sometimes in scene, sometimes in audio logs. Right up until the end, you're not really sure what genre it is.

Limbo

This popped up on PSPlus so I gave it a go. It's very pretty and the puzzles are nice. Haven't finished it yet.

Cities: Skylines

One day, my wife went out with our child and without me for the first time. I had the house to myself for the first time, and I had nothing to do. I bought a packet of chocolate digestives, loaded up Cities, and lost the morning. It was wonderful - Cities is a beautiful game for losing yourself in. It is slow and methodical. You can't really do the wrong thing - you just pick a thing, fix it up a bit, then pick something else. The soundtrack is gorgeous.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

I've written a longer piece about this. Horizon was my back to work present, and as such I played it very slowly, no longer having any free time to play. It was a good game for me - open world, full of big quests and small quests to suit the time I had. Shame it didn't have the ability to save anywhere, but at least it had a pause function.

Stellaris

I have a few friends who play Stellaris every week, and they bought me it with the hope that I would be able to join them, but sadly I haven't really got my evenings back yet. Stellaris feels a lot like Cities and occupies the same niche for me. I'm told that I'm playing it wrong, and I should never pause and play at top speed.

Factorio

Before I start work each morning, I try to have a little free time. I work from home, so this is my commute. For a while, it was Factorio - every morning I would put in a few minutes working on my factory. I listened to Welcome To Night Vale as I played.

And I put time into this game! 130 hours, last count. This game taught me that I do, in fact, put a lot of time into games, here and there, and if I want to, I really can get through long games.

Tooth and Tail

What a concept, what a game! Tooth and Tail reminds me of the old Amiga games I used to play, in both look and feel. It’s a wonderful take on the RTS genre and I really want to play a lot more of it. I hope that it gets a competitive scene together.

Spelunky

Another great game to pick up and put down, Spelunky makes very few demands on your time and every game of it is disposable. It also really values your time - it even has a quick start button to get you straight into the game without having to hit the menu. Genius! This became a game I’d play when I had a spare 5 minutes at my PC.

Nier Automata

No spoilers here because I’m only through 2 of the endings, but wow, what a game so far. After Factorio taught me how much time I had, Nier was the game I chose to spend it on, and so far, 23 hours in, I don’t regret it. Unfortunately, I can’t listen to any game of the year podcasts because I’m terrified of spoilers.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

I’ve had this for ages but never completed it, and I picked it up again after completing Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D. Like the other games, it occupied tiny spaces of my life, 3DS sat beside my bed, until I started my new job which offered me my first ever chance at a train-based commute. Since then I’ve played a mission whenever I’m on a train and I’m really enjoying it. Portable consoles really allow you to live with a game, and that’s a unique feeling. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Switch fares in this field in 2018.

Firewatch

Following on from Cibelle in my reviews, here's another game that doesn't offer much of a challenge and chooses to focus on story. It seems unfair to put the two together though: while Cibelle offers almost no gameplay, Firewatch is built on it. Campo Santo use the first person view coupled with some chunky animations to put you into the headspace of the character in a way that few games achieve. I’ve been a huge fan of Idle Thumbs, the podcast produced by Campo Santo members, for a long time, so I’m quite biased towards them, and it’s no surprise that I loved this game.

On recommendation from various sources, I played with the in-game navigation aid turned off. That leaves you with a map but no pointer to where you are, forcing you to learn the forest and navigate by landmarks. While not to everyone's taste, this feature made the game for me: I knew my way around some parts of the forest perfectly, a little like a ranger might. When I went into unfamiliar places, I got lost, and when I found my way out I felt relief. At one point the story pushed me to run in a new direction and I barrelled headfirst into a completely new bit of woodland. As the adrenaline wore off i found myself utterly confused and unable to find a landmark. This kind of experience is impossible to find in any game that includes the classic map that we've come to expect. This collision of gameplay and story was wonderful.

The story is told through radio contact with another ranger. That alone could be a boring twist on audio logs, but the developers have managed to make the conversations interactive and interesting. Overall, the story pieces are a pleasantly light touch: a significant portion of the game is spent playing on your isolation. It's not the isolation you find in System Shock 2, however - this time it's your choice to be out in the forest, and that puts a whole new spin on it. As the plot thickens, the fire rages across the forest, marking time with a blackening sky.

I'm hard pressed to find bad things to say about Firewatch. It is short, and I wanted more, but I don't think it's a bad thing to be left hungry by art. This game demonstrates that gameplay is not directly tied to challenge and difficulty, but is instead a function of player controls and art. It's a must for anyone who cares about games as a medium.

A Dig Through My Spotify Profile, Part 3

This is part 3 of a journey through my Spotify profile. If you haven’t, check out part 1 and part 2.

After albums comes a weird folder named Curated. A while back, presumably bummed out about not being at Glastonbury, I decided to organise an online festival. For a week, I encouraged my friends to make Spotify playlists representing the stage of their choice, and to my surprise, they listened. Spotstock ran for three years, producing wonders such as The Trouser Tent, The Martini Roso Stage, The Dubstep Room and At The Movies. I keep every Spotstock year in a folder. For a long time, I ran a small webapp displaying them all, but that’s gone now. Perhaps I should get it back online.

Finally, I have my monthly playlists. I can’t remember why I started this. It was definitely after I saw a friend do it, but I’m not sure who. It’s become my way of trying to recreate the way I used to listen to music. In the good old days, I would buy CDs and stack them up next to my CD player - that stack would rotate slowly and I’d listen to those same albums over and over. After a while, I’d get bored of them and they’d enter the rack, to be replaced by another album - sometimes old, sometimes new. By listening to the same albums over and over, I gained a deeper understanding of them. With the advent of streaming music, it’s too easy to flow from one album to the next, never really listening to the same thing twice. The unit of music that is the album has been pushed into the background by our current music climate. To counter this somewhat, I keep a monthly playlist of anything I’m listening to - if I like it, I stick it on the list. I have no other rules - some albums crop up month after month, sometimes I put a lot of music in there, sometimes I have very little. There is rarely any coherence. It’s not an ideal solution, as I often neglect to actually look at the monthly playlist, but it’s something. For example, my working music this month has been very varied. January 2017 was a slightly more themed month in which I was on a bit of a riot grrl binge. December 2010 kicks off with the soundtrack to The Matrix - what a find! I’ve been doing this since September 2010.

So, finally, that’s the end of my Spotify playlists. What a journey!

A Dig Through My Spotify Profile, Part 2

This is part 2 of a journey through my Spotify profile. If you haven’t, check out part 1.

Moving on, I have a folder of collaborative playlists. I can’t link any of these, as they’re semi-private, but among them I have Our Favourite Songs, which a group of us started some time prior to 2010. I have no idea how many people have looked at it over the years. We add things to it now and then. It is now 40 hours long, containing 619 songs. The quality of songs on there is extremely variable. I also have three related playlists from my friend Darren, who, upset at the lack of Boards of Canada on Spotify (mercifully rectified today), asked for our help in finding music that is “Like Boards of Canada”, “Not Quite Like Boards of Canada”, and “Not Like Boards of Canada”. They remain an excellent resource.

After that comes the “Other People” folder, a home for playlists made by other people. Here I collect things that people have sent me as well as a few things like a playlist from BBC 6 Music’s Anthems show. Movie soundtracks, such as 10 Things I Hate About You and Human Traffic live here, as does Ryan Davis’s Realest Summerjams.

I have a folder called Albums, which is largely redundant now that Spotify keeps better track of albums you listen to. Not much to report here, but I’m going to link you to Envy’s Set Yourself on Fire, because it’s good and you should listen to it, and Gescom’s Mini Disc, because it’s a fascinating concept album that you’ve probably never heard of.

Can you believe that I'm not finished yet? More in part 3.

A Dig Through My Spotify Profile, Part 1

I’ve been using Spotify for a long time. I’m not 100% sure when I started using it, but it launched in 2008 and when I gave out invites to my friends, one of them took a 2 character username, so I guess it must have been 2008 or 2009. I have been using playlists from the start - I even have collaborative playlists from before they stored the date in which each song was added. Deep in all of this, there are some real gems, so I thought I’d dive through them and dig some up.

At the top of my playlists I have Spotify’s Discover Weekly, which is always good for new music hunting, and my Starred playlist. Starring songs went away for quite sensible reasons sometime after 2013, but my starred songs still represent an excellent selection of my favourite music.

After that, everything’s in folders. I remember when playlist folders arrived in Spotify - it was a very, very good day.

I have an “offline” folder that I rotate things through, to make it easy to track them on my phone and quickly download them. A lot of stuff rolls through here, depending on my mood, but right now, my Holiday mix is all that’s in there worth mentioning.

My next folder is entitled “Things I Made”. This folder contains all my timeless playlists, ranging from a braindump of every bit of music that I find helps me be productive to quite carefully built mixtapes like Maccy’s Lovely Summer and Fun Spring Stuff. I also have a few gems like this collation of albums from a Reddit thread listing classic albums from the past 10 years.

To be continued in my next post!